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A Separation of Church and Sports?

A friend of mine sent me a link to a recent USA Today opinion piece about evangelicals in sports.  In “I’d like to thank God Almighty“, Tom Krattenmaker argues that although he is “impressed by the good that’s done by sports-world Christians” and considers “Jesus-professing athletes” as “among the best citizens in their sector,” he’s still has a beef with evangelical sports stars.

The problem, says Krattenmaker, is that evangelicals don’t believe all roads to God.

Evangelical players and ministry representatives in sports aren’t out to harm anyone, of course. On the contrary, they see themselves as fulfilling the Bible’s Great Commission (“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Matthew 28:19). In this sense, their mission is pure altruism: They seek to share the gift of eternal life.

But there’s a shadow side to this. If their take on God and truth and life is the only right one — which their creed boldly states — everyone else is wrong.

I don’t know many evangelicals who baldly state “everyone else is wrong”, but it’s true, when it comes being reconciled with God we believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way.  I have no problem that Krattenmaker disagrees with this belief or even that he thinks people like me backward for holding such a belief.  But Krattenmaker’s complaint against evangelical players and ministries is misguided.  In one breath he affirms that evangelical sports starts, “like all Americans, have a right to express their faith.”  But then he turns around and questions whether evangelicals should be peddling a faith that is so out of step with the majority of Americans.

Krattenmaker’s argument against the Tim Tebows of the sports world boils down to: “I don’t like that evangelicals think they’re right.”  But, of course, Krattenmaker thinks evangelicals are dead wrong in their insistence they alone are right.

There are other contradictions in the piece.  Krattenmaker writes in reference to outspoken evangelical chaplains and athletes:

Should we be pleased that the civic resource known as “our team” — a resource supported by the diverse whole through our ticket-buying, game-watching and tax-paying — is being leveraged by a one-truth evangelical campaign that has little appreciation for the beliefs of the rest of us?

This line of reasoning says little more than “I don’t like that the people I root for think I need Jesus.”  But Krattenmaker’s “argument” could be used against just about any industry in America.  Should we be pleased that the civic resource known as “our movies”–a resource supported by the diverse whole through our ticket-buying, movie-watching and tax paying (especially with Michigan’s subsidies)–is being leveraged by a secular humanism that has little appreciation for the beliefs of the rest of us?  The great thing about American is you don’t have to watch a Susan Sarandon flick if her politics are that offensive to you, and you don’t have to watch football if you can’t stand it that some of them believe Jesus is the only way to heaven.

Krattenmaker is appalled that Tebow’s father’s evangelistic association espouses a “far-right” theology that believes in “eternal punishment” and rejects “the modern ecumenical movement.”  “In making and acting on rigid claims about who is or isn’t in good standing with God,” Krattenmaker opines, “the Bob Tebow organization is working at cross purposes with the majority of Americans — indeed, the majority of American Christians — and their more generous conception of salvation.”  Yeah, so?  Can sports stars, on their own time mind you, only work with organizations that pass muster by national referendum?  Millions of people in America think millions of other Americans are going to hell apart from the saving work of Jesus.  And millions of Americans think those other Americans are neanderthals for believing that.  God bless America!

Besides, it’s not like Tim Tebow puts “punish the infidels” on the black under his eyes.  He puts a Bible verse.  And while it’s well known that Tebow is a conservative evangelical, it’s not like he’s talking about his father’s rejection of the modern ecumenical movement in post-game interviews.  No doubt, some evangelical sports stars have been obnoxious about their faith in the locker room.  No doubt, some ministries have been rude in their evangelistic strategies.  But then those are the players and ministries that most people will ignore.  Most, I imagine, try to winsomely persuade non-Christians about the claims of Christ, just like Krattenmaker does with the claims of his pluralistic faith.

We all try to convince others that our way of looking at the world makes sense, even if our way of looking at the world says we shouldn’t be too definite about the way we look at the world.  So, yes, evangelicals think Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.  That’s not a secret.  And it’s not a crime either.

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